LIGHT TANKS – A HISTORY OF ARMOUR EVOLUTION AND ARMOURED WARFARE
Light tanks,something every army around the globe have found a renewed interest in.Light tanks have a history of their own in the annuls of armoured warfare.But before discussing about “what” and “why now” about light tanks,the evolution of tanks must be understood.
1. FIRST GENERATION TANKS
Tanks were born out of the necessity to break the deadlock of trench warfare during WW1.Light cannons were fitted to a rudimentary armour design to attack the trenches .There were also versions with machine guns called “female” tanks whereas their cannon carrying counterparts were called “male” tanks.Tanks of this era were slow,heavy for their engines,provided protection only from small arms, but still were very effective in breaking into the trenches.
2. INTERWAR PERIOD
Trench warfare and defensive lines concept kept dominating the strategic mindsets of the victorious nations of WW1.Tanks were thought of as mere infantry support and trench breakers .Not much thought was given about mobility and fortified defence lines with cannons and high velocity anti tank guns(both towed and stationary) was deemed sufficient.All this will prove disastrous few years later.
3.BLITZKREIG: TRIUMPH OF MOBILITY OVER FORTIFICATION
When majority of europe kept emphasizing over fortified defensive lines Germans went through a different route,a combined armed tactics called blitzkreig making use of lightning fast armour thrusts along with airstrikes at critical points where enemy was weak.this demanded high mobility and thus the Light/Medium tank was born.Its pinnacle came during Battle of France when higher mobility of German light tanks allowed them to by pass the Maginot Line and attack by crossing through the Ardennes Forest.
4.TANK DESTROYERS AND NEED FOR HEAVIER ARMOURS:ENTER THE HEAVY TANK
Bitter lessons learned during Battle of France compelled the allies to come up with something that was cheaper and easier to produce and can hunt the German tanks.Hence ,the tank destroyer was born.A lightly armoured anti tank gun carrier with often no roof or turret to keep the weight and cost lower.This new development will bring a new type of tank ,the heavy tank ,with enough armour to survive the tank destroyer shells and heavy guns of itself to hunt down other tanks.These heavy tanks were much slower than their lighter counterparts.Though later in war ,specialized low velocity anti tank ammo for tanks and infantry weapons like panzerfaust will make the tank destroyers irrelevant.
5.MBT:COMBINING SPEED,FIREPOWER AND ARMOUR
During late war years,many new developments in engine and armour tech(like the T34’s sloped armour) made tanks lighter and much more mobile while also making them more well protected and versatile via specialized ammo.Throughout the cold war and uptill now MBT or main battle tanks have remained the mainstay of armoured warfare.They are faster than even light tanks of the past,more protected than the ww2 era heavy tanks and have far deadlier firepower than tank destroyers of the past..But all this wasn’t to remain forever.
6.ATGMS,NEWER ANTI ARMOUR AMMO AND HEAVIER ARMOURS:DEPLOYABILITY DILEMMA AND EXPEDITIONARY WARFARE
The development of ATGMS and more potent tank gun rounds compelled tank designers to add on more armour and ERA and other protection measures making the MBTs heavier each passing year.MBTs of now have become so much heavier that its increasingly becoming near impossible to airlift them easily and deploy on the battlefield rapidly,something of vital importance in today’s modern warfare.They are also losing their mobility thus hindering their deployment in some environments like mountains.They now need something to compliment them in combined armed tactics of today.Do not get it wrong that MBTs have become a burden ,no ,far from it.They will still be the king but will need a lighter counterpart complimenting them.
7.MODERN LIGHT TANK:A COMBO OF LIGHT TANK AND TANK DESTROYER
In current scenario ,it can be said that MBTs alone can’t do everything on their own.Thus a renewed interest in light tanks.But what should a light tank be like?Keeping in mind that its not supposed to replace MBTs,it should be
(A) Light enough to be Air lifted
(B) Highly mobile
(C) Able to fire ATGMS
(D) Adequately protected from small arms fire and able to take on other light tanks and other lightly armoured vehicles.